One of the interesting features of Ecclesiastes is the philosophic ramblings and attempts at reaching some sort of wisdom without the “God dimension” — that’s why I’m calling it a “flat wisdom”. We’ll be reading some of that today in our readings; keep it in mind as you go through. It’s not that the LORD is endorsing these proverbs, many of them are simply observations “under the sun” which lead to “under the sun” advice — human wisdom, wisdom without factoring God in. Some of it is true as far as it goes; it’s just that it doesn’t go far enough and include the LORD. Let’s take a look…
“It is better to go to a house of mourning Than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2 — Having officiated at and attended my share of funerals, there is definitely wisdom here. Funerals, standing looking down into a casket, and watching the coffin lowered into the ground is all very sobering. It reminds everyone of their eventual date with death. Even the unbeliever is impressed, but the question is what they’ll do with it. A couple of years ago I was asked to do the funeral of a Hell’s Angel pledge (as it were). It was a well-attended funeral and I met a lot of really interesting people. After the formal part of the funeral was over, the somber crowd were invited to the local Hell’s Angel’s bar for drinks (presumably to get sloshed). My point is that the reminder of mortality will persuade some to think about God and others to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” You’ll see more of this response from the “wisdom under the sun” later in this posting. My point: without God factored in, look where even spending time in the house of mourning can and often times lead you.
“In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider– God has made the one as well as the other So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.” Ecclesiastes 7:14 — This “flat wisdom” sees no afterlife, no hope, nothing. Stuff just happens without any rhyme or reason that man can figure out. It’s a rather fatalistic approach to living, which (again) becomes a common theme among those living “wisdom under the sun”.
“I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.” Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 — This passage is really clearly “flat wisdom” without the God dimension: don’t be too good or too bad — a little bit of both is best. I’ve run across lots and lots of these folks in my life — “I’m not a bad person, I’ve got my little vices, but I think that’s OK.” The rationale: people will give you a hard time and take advantage of you, if you’re a boy scout all the time; but you don’t want to end up in the clink either. It’s sort of a no-worse-than-anyone-else moral position — and it makes sense, if God’s not really part of your life.
“Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” Ecclesiastes 8:1 — In other words (and not nearly as eloquently put): Life’s perplexities and tragedies and troubles will definitely bring a frown to the face. Blessed are the fortunate guys who finally figure things out; you can tell who they are by the smiles that they wear. That’s why real Christians do a lot of smiling.
“I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God.” Ecclesiastes 8:2 — “Flat wisdom” says stay out of trouble, do what you’re told. And it does make good sense most of the time — until the king falls morally.
“Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” Ecclesiastes 8:11 — Again, there is a certain wisdom here that is unquestionably sound, when dealing with misbehaving children and even criminals. But Peter reminds us of the reason why God hasn’t taken out the bad guys yet: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9, NAS95. He’s giving us all a chance to turn. I’m glad He gave me a chance.
“There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility. So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:14, 15 — Here’s one of the “eat, drink, and be merry” pieces of advice from “under the sun” philosophers and their “flat wisdom”.
“For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” Ecclesiastes 9:4-7 — Here are more conclusions of the “under the sun” wise men: death is to be avoided at all costs (better a live dog than a dead lion), when you’re dead, you’re gone (the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward), since we’ll all die in the end, let’s “eat, drink, and be merry”. Except that when you factor God in, everything — everything — changes. With God, there are things worse than death, death is not the end at all and you definitely have great reward, and since we all die in the end let’s live for eternity rather than the futility of this life! You see, adding God turns the whole thing 180˚.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.